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Don't write-off the prospects for European businesses just yet

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 17, 2012

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Abandon Europe or embrace it? Brewin Dolphin investment manager Darryn Richards takes a look and concludes that the signs for Europe and the euro may not be all bad.

If you have just returned from a sun-kissed holiday in Europe you may have noticed how your pound went that bit further than it did a year ago.

You have the euro crisis to thank for that. The shenanigans across the Channel meant that your pound was worth more than 1.25 euros compared to barely a 1 euro a year earlier.

But given the perilous state that many European economies find themselves in, questions do remain over whether you'll be exchanging your pounds for euros next summer.

The euro's survival is still in the balance. More than two years on since Greece agreed to its first bail-out, the Greek debt burden shows little sign of abating. Today, it is no longer just about Greece. Spain, Portugal and Italy have been dragged into the mire too.

Unemployment across the Continent is rising (in Spain the rate has increased from 21.7% to 25.1%) and economists are cutting their growth forecasts. Moody's Investors Service has recently changed its outlook on the AAA rating of the European Union to negative, warning it might downgrade the bloc if it decides to cut the ratings on the EU's four biggest backers: Germany, France, UK and Netherlands.

Now the focus is firmly on European Central Bank president Mario Draghi, who said he would do "whatever it takes" to save the euro and has now unveiled his new buy all bonds programme – to help Spain and Italy carry on without a formal bail-out. If Spain and Italy accept the tough terms and now the German Courts have ratified the deal – European governments have a chance to get their finances into shape and so it could prove a turning point.

Not surprisingly, investors are still nervous and equity shy. But, despite the uncertainty, opportunity might be starting to knock for investors.

Much of the doubts and pessimism have been priced in to European stock markets. This means that if Draghi's plan succeeds in kick-starting a recovery then investors could, reasonably, expect to see some uplift in share prices.

Blue-chip European exporters and overseas earners, for instance, could benefit despite the turmoil once the situation improves.

Take car manufacturer Daimler, for example. Its shares look attractive on several levels. First, at the end of the year, it will launch its new high margin S-class and A and B – classes, which should be cheaper to make than its predecessors. Second, premium car sales in China continue to be extremely resilient – up 15% in the first four months of 2012 with sales aligned to bigger and larger engines. A recovery in the US economy could also benefit Daimler trucks.

Nestlé, best known for its coffee, is another that could buck the trend given its long and consistent track record of delivering on its target. It has managed in the past 10 years to consistently gain market share, while distiller, Pernod–Ricard has also shown itself to be one of the strongest worldwide, with very good pricing power and resilience – even growth – through economic downturns.

Given the endless stream of gloom coming from Europe you might think it would be crazy to start investing in the region. Yet it is often worth taking a look at some unloved areas of the stock market. After all, some of the greatest investors have gone against the grain and been handsomely rewarded.

One such investor was John Maynard Keynes – perhaps the most famous contrarian investor of them all. It is worth remembering what he said in the after-math of the Great Depression in 1937: "It is the one sphere of life and activity where victory, security and success is always to the minority and never to the majority. When you find anyone agreeing with you, change your mind."

You may have packed away your Michelin Guide and the sun tan lotion for another year, but it might pay not to put Europe at the back of your mind just yet.

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